A southern Minnesota woman charged with killing a woman in Florida while on the run from authorities pleaded guilty to first-degree murder Tuesday and was sentenced to life in prison.
Lois Riess, of Blooming Prairie, was charged with fatally shooting Pamela Hutchinson in a Fort Myers Beach condo in April 2018. Riess drove from Minnesota to Florida after allegedly killing her husband, then killed Hutchinson because she had a similar appearance to Riess, according to a Lee County grand jury indictment.
Prosecutors in Florida had sought the death penalty, but withdrew that possibility and accepted a plea for a life sentence.
"This defendant will never get out of prison," said Flordia State Attorney Amira Fox. "This life sentence … guarantees she will never be free again. It also allows the family of the victim to not have to go through details of this crime at trial."
Riess was scheduled to appear in court Tuesday for a pretrial hearing, but after discussions between prosecutors and her defense team Riess entered the plea for a life sentence, said Rich Montecalvo, the lead prosecutor.
"We had a strong case for guilt," he said. "This is a clean plea with no opportunity for parole or appeal, and the family wanted no chance of her seeing the light of day. This accomplishes that."
Hutchinson's family was on board with the outcome, he said.
Riess also waived extradition to face charges in Minnesota, where she is accused of killing her husband, David, in March 2018. Lois Riess has previously been charged in Dodge County with forging $11,000 in checks from her husband's business account.
The two killings grabbed national headlines after David Riess was found shot to death in the couple's Blooming Prairie home on March 23. By then, Lois Riess, whose penchant for gambling earned her the nickname "Losing Streak Lois," had driven the couple's Cadillac Escalade to Fort Myers Beach.
Authorities say Riess befriended the 59-year-old Hutchinson at a seaside eatery because they had a similar appearance. After eating together at the restaurant April 4, Riess went back to Hutchinson's condo and shot her. Hutchinson was found in her room four days later.
Lois Riess took off in Hutchinson's car, according to the charges. She used the deceased woman's credit card to pay for a hotel room and used her ID to make a $5,000 withdrawal from a Wells Fargo Bank. Riess also withdrew another $500 from Hutchinson's account at another bank.
While on the run, Riess was spotted at casinos in Louisiana, including one where she hit a jackpot. She was also spotted near Corpus Christi, Texas, before U.S. marshals arrested her April 19 in South Padre Island, Texas.
It was not immediately known when Riess might be in Minnesota to face charges. The Dodge County Attorney's Office referred the case to the Minnesota Attorney General's Office, which will prosecute the case.
"Hopefully within a couple months we will see her in a courtroom in Dodge County," said John Stiles, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office.